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“I love tasting squeegees and the view from the front seat.” Said no safety expert, ever.

"I love tasting squeegees and the view from the front seat." Said no safety expert, ever.

Pieter Kuiper/Wikipedia Commons

Baby on Board: Common Safety Mistakes When Driving with a Child

September 23rd through 29th is National Child Passenger Safety Week, and AAA has shared some valuable tips for securing and transporting your young ones while operating a motor vehicle. These are important rules to follow considering two out of every three child safety seats are misused, according to AAA and the National Highway Transporation Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The consequences of precarious child seating positions are serious. Car crashes are the leading cause of death and injury among children younger than 13 and automobile fatalities were up 8% in 2016, the most recent data, for that age group. Before you baby-proof every inch of the house, it’s better to get NASCAR pit crew level speed and accuracy with that car seat. There are several free events this week to check whether your car seat is safely installed.

Questions to Ask When Setting Up Your Car Seat

You’ll probably remove the months-old fast food wrappers from your hatchback, but you’re going to want to make sure your seats can adapt to the car seat you’re going to use. Make sure you figure out what kind of attachment system your seat uses and buy accordingly.

Does your car safety seat face forward or backward? Does it work in the front seat and/or the back seats? How does it anchor into the seat? How are you going to use the tether strap? What’s the long-term plan for your child? The little ones will grow out of the current seat. What’s the next one you’ll buy? Will you need to switch systems? Search for reviews and demonstration videos on YouTube. Many car review channels make sure to show which child safety systems are included in the back row of seats.

Car Seat Laws Differ in DC, Maryland, and Virginia

You’ve got to have a game plan for safe car travel with your children. The laws are different in every state. Here are the basics in the DMV:

  • The DC rule, according to DCPD: “DC law requires that any child up to 16 years of age must be in a properly installed child safety seat or restrained in a seat belt. Children under eight years of age must be properly seated in an installed infant, convertible (toddler) or booster child seat.”
  • The Maryland rule, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration: “Maryland’s current law requires that children under eight years old to ride in an appropriate child restraint, unless the child is 4’9” or taller. Every child from 8 to 16 years old who is not secured in a child restraint must be secured in the vehicle’s seat belt, in every sitting position in the vehicle.”
  • The Virginia rule, according to AAA: “In Virginia, children ages eight until 18 must be secured in a child restraint, booster seat, or safety belt regardless of seating position. Children under age 8 must be secured in a child restraint or booster seat, as appropriate. Children under one year must be restrained in a rear-facing infant seat. Beginning July 1, 2019, Virginia law will require children to remain rear-facing until ‘(i) the child reaches two years of age or (ii) the child reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer of the device.’”

Seven Common Car Seat Mistakes, via AAA:

1. Not using a safety seat. Whether an infant, toddler or booster seat-age child, parents should always use the appropriate child restraint system every time their child is in a vehicle.

2. Not reading safety seat instructions. With thousands of combinations of child safety seats and vehicle belt systems, it’s important for parents to read both the vehicle owner’s manual and the child safety seat instructions before installing a seat to ensure it’s done properly.

3. Using restraints for older children too soon. Parents frequently advance their children into the stage of safety restraints too soon. The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated their car seat recommendations. According to the AAP, “In the updated policy statement, “Child Passenger Safety,” and an accompanying technical report, to be published in the November 2018 issue of Pediatrics (published online Aug. 30), the AAP recommends children remain in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.” All children under age 13 should be placed in the back seat.

4. Installing safety seats too loosely. When a child safety seat is properly installed, it should not move more than one inch in any direction. Parents should use either the vehicle’s seat belt or LATCH system to secure the safety seat—but not both, unless approved by the vehicle and car seat manufacturers. If using a seat belt, make sure it is locked to hold the seat snugly in place.

5. Adjusting seat harnesses incorrectly. Safety seat harnesses should always be snug and lie flat without twists. Harnesses should be at or below the child’s shoulders when rear-facing and at or above the shoulders when forward-facing in order to hold the child’s body upright and against the seat. The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level.

6. Gadgetry: If it didn’t come with the seat (or wasn’t purchased from the manufacturer to use with the seat), it wasn’t crash-tested with the seat. It, therefore, cannot be guaranteed to be safe and should not be used. This includes strap covers, mirrors, and toys.

7. Not replacing seats after a crash or using one without knowing its history: Check your manual to see if the seat should be replaced even after a minor fender-bender and even if no child was in the seat at the time. Also, never buy a used car seat, and never accept a free used one unless you’re sure that it’s never been in a crash. Even if it looks OK, there may be damages that aren’t visible. It is safer to buy a cheap, new seat than a high-end used seat. All seats pass the same pass/fail crash tests.

Does Your Child Car Seat Have a Recall Going?

Sage advice, again from AAA: “Remember to register your car seat or booster seat with the seat manufacturer so you can be notified in the event of a recall.”

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